Tag Archives: Norseman

A Few More Norseman Tidbits for the Fans

RCAF Norseman 3528Check out this lovely period photo showing RCAF Norseman 3528 at Watson Lake in the Yukon on June 15, 1944. Whatever task 3528 was about, in these few moments the crew was not too worried. Who would know there was a war on, eh, with the fellows having knocked off for some fun in the cool, fresh water under the wing of their big yellow bird.

Earlier, Norseman 3528 had been on strength at 124 (Ferry) Squadron based at Rockcliffe, but in August 1942 had be reassigned to Northwest Air Command for duty in the Yukon, mainly supporting the Northwest Staging Route and CANOL Pipeline projects. In the Yukon, 3528’s usual pilot into 1943 was a pre-WWII northern legend, F/L Carl Crossley. See Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman, Vol.1 for the Crossley/Norseman story.

And what of 3528 in the end? It’s not a happy tale. Moments after taking off from Fort Simpson, NWT on July 10, 1945, it crashed. Crewman LAC Sidney B. Ladell freed himself from the wreck, but powerful currents in the Liard River carried 3528 away with pilot F/O Charles T. Wheeler trapped in the cockpit. He was never seen again. (DND PL25434, click to see full screen) CF-DTL  refuelling at Green's dock, Red Lake (ON)  26-7-2009 (M. Léonard)One of Canada’s best-known Norsemans in recent years has been CF-DTL, owned by Gord and Eleanor Hughes of Ignace, Ontario. Since the 1980s, it’s been a regular summer visitor across the North. Having begun as RCAF 2484 in 1941, postwar CF-DTL had served the Department of Transport and Wheeler Airlines, until wrecked at Moosonee in 1965. Rebuilt by Lauzon Aviation, it flew again for years in the Quebec bush. Gord and Eleanor eventually did their own restoration of this historic Norseman, and still care lovingly for it. While visiting Red Lake from France for the 2009 Norseman Festival, Michel Léonard photographed CF-DTL with Gord up top refuelling.

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*UPDATE* New pics added! Here we go again! CANAV Books Announces … Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman

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Norseman No.1 awaits delivery at Cartierville towards the end of 1935. CF-AYO ended badly, crashing in NW Ontario in 1953. Its remains form a slightly oddball display at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage in Sault Ste. Marie. (These fine historic pix have been beautifully tweaked up by CANAV’s good supporter, astronomer Andrew Yee — you know Andrew from his celestial reports on the Weather Network. Click on each image to see it full size.)

Norseman C-FBHZ in a fine Richard Hulina air-to-air photo taken in August 2003, while Jacob Latto was at the helm. Unfortunately, in 2008 ‘BHZ suffered serious damage in an accident. But one never knows — many a wrecked Norseman has arisen “from the ashes”.

Norseman CF-OBI in an excellent Leslie Corness Kodachrome taken in the late 1950s at Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island. Having started with the Ontario Provincial Air Service in 1945, this Norseman V moved to Arctic Wings in 1955. On January 15, 1959 it force-landed on Hudson Bay and was lost.

Norseman V CF-GSR of Austin Airways sits at Moosenee over the summer of 1964. Since delivered new to Canadian Forest Products in 1950, ‘GSR served a host of operators and remained busy into the 2000s. (Larry Milberry)

How goes your vote for “the great Canadian bushplane”? Without thinking too much about it, lots of people have a knee-jerk solution. “The Beaver”, they shout in unison. One author even calls the Beaver “The World’s Greatest Bushplane”. Well, not hardly, although we all appreciate the Beaver. No argument there – it’s a good bushplane, just not the greatest by any yardstick.

But … if we’re philosophizing nostalgically about an “iconic” Canadian bushplane, at CANAV these days we’re thinking Noorduyn Norseman. That rugged old workhorse started its career in Northern Quebec in 1935 and, 75+ years later, a few Norsemans are still hard at it. In its own way, and all things considered, the Norseman can make the competition look like it has a way to go yet. The Norseman carries almost double a Beaver’s load, almost as much as an Otter, and does it faster than either. “No too bad” for a plane designed 77-78 years ago!

Straight off the mark in 1936, the Norseman proved itself a tough, dependable bushplane and a money-maker. But sales started sluggishly. After all, the world was in economic depression, and there were plenty of older, cheaper bushplanes getting the job done. It wasn’t until the US Army began ordering, that production got rolling.

In 1943-45 the Americans purchased more than 700 Norsemans for the war effort. Designated UC-64As, these were sent to do many a tough job in combat theatres from Alaska to the UK/Europe, India-Burma and the South Pacific. This puts a point on the fact (for anyone to see) that, without the war and Uncle Sam, the Norseman might not have made it.

UC-64A Norsemans on the shop floor at Noorduyn during the war. Note the unfinished frame nearest. Once its wooden formers and stringers were added, it would be covered in fabric and moved along the line.

A typical UC-64A in the field. 43-5396 ended somewhere in the European Theatre of Operations with the 9th Air Force. Little is known about most such US Army Norsemans, this one included. It is listed as being “condemned” in January 1946, which usually meant that a plane would be scrapped. (via Norman Malayney)

This UC-64A was used for developmental programs at the US Army test center at Wright Field Ohio. Here it is fitted with a 3-blade propeller, which was found to improve general performance. The postwar Norseman V adopted this feature. (National Museum of the USAF)

As soon as the US Army UC-64As were declared surplus in 1945, companies began sweeping them up at affordable prices. These Norsemans definitely led the way, allowing bush operators around the world to establish themselves in the new, wide open, peacetime economy.

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Hudson Bay Air Transport’s CF-BFU in Northern BC in 1950. Ross Lennox, who took this photo, flew ‘BFU on this job, supporting prospectors in the field. Later, while with Gayle Air, ‘BFU flipped disastrously on landing one day in 1971/72 at Selkirk, Manitoba.

Although magazines and journals have often featured the Norseman, no major book about it has yet been published. Someone was always “doing” a Norseman book, but I never saw any results, other than a very fine 2007 magazine-format profile about the Scandinavian Norsemans. So … no Norseman book of any sort from 1935 to 2007, a mere 72 years.

However, a few researchers in Canada at least were laying a foundation. Bruce Gowans put out a list of Canadian civil Norsemans, and CAHS researchers from Paddy Gardiner to Bob Halford, M.L. “Mac” McIntyre, K.M. Molson and Fred Shortt added solid, original Norseman results. Meanwhile, Bob Grant, a longtime bush pilot, kept filling the magazine pages with articles about the Norseman.

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Norseman CF-GMM in a typical scene among some of the local kids far up the east coast of Hudson Bay. Geoff Wyborn took this classic photo in the 1950s. It’s one of the favourites among readers of my book about Austin Airways.

Few scenes capture Norseman life better than this one from the 1960s. Austin Airways Norseman CF-JIN is out in the winter boonies with some sort of engine trouble. The technical guys are all set up for repairs with their engine tent in place, Herman Nelson heater standing by, snowshoes at the ready, etc. (Mark Nieminen)

Norseman CF-IGG blazing full-tilt at Moosenee in October 1969. Embers from a burning windsock had landed on it, igniting the paint-layered fabric. A stiff breeze did the rest. CF-IGG had been built by Austin Airways in Sudbury from components purchased from Noorduyn circa 1955. Nominally, CF-IGG was serial number N29-51, but this must have taken a bit of fudging with the paperwork. (Neil O’Brien)

Meanwhile, I had been gathering Norseman material for about 50 years. The day came earlier this year when it was time to do something. I talked to Hugh Halliday, who himself had been procrastinating about doing a Norseman book. We decided to go ahead, Hugh concentrating on the RCAF side of the story and using the Ottawa research facilities that he knows so well. Overnight, we started pulling together all the essential material needed by CANAV to finally get “the book” into print.

It now is almost September and I’ve got much of the text roughed out. You can imagine the approach – the recipe is well-proven in a long series of CANAV titles that you ever- skeptical readers have voted “Yea and thank you” time and again since 1981.

In Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman, we start with the historic fundamentals – some biographical coverage of Bob Noorduyn and how he came to Montreal to design the ultimate bushplane. Early pre-war trials and tribulations are covered, then comes the war and boom times turning out UC-64As. Some coverage of these 700+ planes is included, but their story is going to have to be researched and published by someone else. CANAV’s book is essentially the Canadian story, with passing mention of Norsemans abroad.

Postwar Norseman 2486 in one of the finer RCAF air-to-air Norseman photos. Aviation bibliophiles will recall this as the endpaper shot in my first book Aviation in Canada (1979). 2486 served the RCAF 1941-53, then was donated to Norway, where it was in the RNoAF (including on UN duty in the Suez). Later, it was a commercial plane in Norway, until lost in a 1971 accident.

Naturally, much attention is paid to the RCAF Norseman before, during and after the war. Search and rescue is a huge theme here. Several dramatic episodes that were front-page headlines in the 1940s-60s are brought back to life.

Commercial operators across Canada are another giant part of the book, from QCA to Central Northern/Transair, OCA, Austin Airways, Wheeler Airlines, Northern Wings, etc. Norsemans with the provincial air services and RCMP also are included.

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Richard Hulina also caught C-FBHZ just as it alighted on a lake near Sioux Lookout. If you don’t have Richard’s magnificent book Bush Flying Captured, do yourself a favour. For more info, see the CANAV book list right here on the blog.

Green Airways Norseman 5 CF-OBE finished for the day at Red lake on a fine evening in the early 1990s. Pilot Joe Sinkowski is stepping down from the cockpit after his enjoyable day’s work. (Larry Milberry)

Naturally, books galore could be written about all the potential  Norseman topics. With this one CANAV is covering specific topics based on well-researched material that you can’t find on that siren of sirens (all too often, the lazy researcher’s “quick and dirty” source), the internet (I like Homer Simpson’s term “interweb”, also his question one day, “Is that thing still around?”).

Not that there isn’t some wonderful Norseman material on the web — there is so much that a publisher might wonder, “Why bother with a book?” In a typical case, on his excellent website Geoff Goodall beautifully covers the history of the 14 Australian Norsemans.

But there still is a vast amount of Norseman material not on the web. Finding it and using it to best effect is the book publisher’s challenge. That’s what some of us love to do.

Many of the famous Norseman pilots and engineers are well written up in The Noorduyn Norseman. I call these fellows “The Kings of the Norseman”. These profiles cannot be found anywhere else. Sometimes I tracked down the great men themselves, or their families, since so many of the “Kings” are long gone. Where the trail was cold, Hugh could sometimes dredge relevant files from the public archives. In one case, in King City and Thunder Bay, I visited the sons of the great Norseman aficionado, Carl Crossley. His logbooks surfaced from this effort — they constitute a goldmine of Norseman history. Then, after some solid detective work, Hugh found Crossley’s wartime RCAF files. “Bingo”, as they say. Bit by bit, this is how CANAV has gotten the story down – the usual story, eh. Work like a dog for no pay, then put out the best book on the block.

Our book finishes with a close look at the Norseman in 2012. Several fine examples still are at work in the bush. Austin Airways’ famous CF-BSC has been restored. It started flying again this summer — I had a ride in it at Red Lake in July! Other legendary examples, such as Bearskin Airlines’ old CF-ZMX, also is back in the air. Other Norsemans , CF-SAP included, still are doing tough day-to-day work at remote tourist camps, and even are busy in Ontario’s “Ring of Fire”, a modern day gold rush scenario. Naturally, Gord Hughes Norseman shop is included, as is “Norseman Days” at Red Lake – several colourful pages are reserved for these topics.

So … get ready for a book that, by the standards of our ever-intelligent and demanding readers and fans, will rate that simple accolade which you have thrown at CANAV so often – “This one’s a real gem”. Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman will give you a solid level of history — enticing reading with hundreds of choice photos/illustrations to balance off the whole effort. Sure, it’ll only be the tip of the iceberg, but it makes a good, strong start at getting the Norseman so deservedly back into the limelight.

Keep an eye here for further news. I’m planning a book launch by February 2013, but the sooner the better. This will be the 5th title in CANAV’s ongoing “Aviation in Canada” series. Look on p.1 of the blog for all the details. This is a series for any serious fan of Canadian aviation history.

Meanwhile, should you have any rare old photos of Norsemans (prints or slides), let me know (larry@canavbooks.com). Original material only —  those ancient, tiny old black and white prints are especially of interest. Should you have anything to lend, as usual I’m at 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4E 3B6. Anything on loan will be scanned to the specs I need for high-quality book production and immediately returned.

The Norseman line-up at Gordy and Eleanor Hughes’ base near Ignace on July 19, 2012. Nearest is the newly-restored ex-Austin Airways Norseman V CF-BSC.

Four Norsemans on the same beach as photographed by Dutch aficionado Chris Mak in September 2012.

Thanks as usual for checking in…

Larry Milberry, publisher

Editors…Please check your facts and grammar!

airforce-magazineLast fall Air Force Magazine asked me to write a guest editorial in praise of Canada’s upcoming Centennial of Flight.

Any writer understands that such a piece will be edited. The editor has a tough job making sure that content meets standards, getting things to fit on the page, meeting the deadline, all sorts of things. When AFM hit the street, however, there were a few bugs in the guest editorial, as with the AEA being called the “Aeronautical Experiment Association”, which it was not – it’s the Aerial Experiment Association. Readers notice these thing. A few other glitches popped up, such as my word “airplanes” being changed to the odd form “aircrafts”. Such gaffs can be avoided if an editor gives the writer a chance to review an item before sending it to press.

We know that Air Force Magazine is short-staffed, but proof reading isn’t rocket science. Local volunteer proof readers easily could be found in the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, among Canadian War Museum retirees, folks at the Canada Aviation Museum, etc. With a bit of extra effort, a cleaner “product” would result.

For the record, here is what I originally submitted to AFM. You can read the published version in Vol.32 No.4.

Have fun! Larry Milberry

Editorial for Air Force Magazine 12-08

Any 100th anniversary calls for a celebration and that certainly goes for 2009—Canada’s Centennial of Flight. All through the year there will be opportunities to get involved and enjoy Canada’s coast-to-coast aviation heritage gala.

Although balloons had been flying in Canada since 1840, our first powered, heavier-than-air flight would have to await a particular “alignment” of such terms as AEA, J.A.D. McCurdy, Silver Dart and Baddeck. McCurdy belonged to the Aerial Experiment Association, established in Halifax in 1907. Heading the AEA was Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, whose other hand-picked associates were John “Casey” Baldwin and two important Americans — Glenn Hammond Curtiss and Thomas Selfridge.

In 1908 the AEA’s four unique airplanes made many flights at Curtiss’ Hammondsport, New York base. On March 12, 1908 Baldwin had become the first Canadian to fly any powered airplane, when he took up the Red Wing. McCurdy flew the Silver Dart on December 6. (We now appreciate how seminal Curtiss’ role was in all this — there would have been no Silver Dart without him.)

In February 1909 the Silver Dart was shipped to Beinn Bhreagh, Dr. Bell’s Cape Breton Island home on Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck. Here, on February 23 McCurdy would make Canadian history. That frosty afternoon, he took his seat on the Silver Dart – his handsome but frail little biplane. Within minutes he had successfully completed a short flight off the ice before a crowd of onlookers. Dr. Bell immediately sent out a telegram: “McCurdy flew Silver Dart one mile and a half in great style.” As simple an event as this may have seemed, the following century in aviation would be Canada’s.

On April 29, 1909 Casey Baldwin spoke at the University of Toronto about the AEA, how flying really was no more dangerous than driving a motor car, and how aviation was sure to find its place. Soon he and McCurdy had the Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa to give the Canadian Militia its first airplane demonstration. After three successful flights on August 2, the pair decided to fly together. Unhappily, they cracked up on landing. One reporter explained how “The plucky aviators were not dangerously injured and are full of enthusiasm.” Baldwin added, “We are immensely pleased with our morning’s work, although we are sorry to lose the Silver Dart… It was our first machine and we had come to regard it in a personal light.” The ruins of the Silver Dart were picked over by souvenir hunters, Baldwin lamenting,  “Every Tommy in camp has a souvenir splinter.” What remained of the plane was burned.

The Baddeck team now assembled its back-up machine, Baddeck No.1. When Baldwin and McCurdy announced that they would fly it across the nearby Ottawa River, the press called this “perilous”. When the 42-hp engine recovered from the Silver Dart was tested on Baddeck No.1, the Toronto Daily Star demonstrated how everything is relative: “When the great engine commenced to work last night, it could be heard for miles… The strength of four men was required to hold the machine down while the propeller was working.”

On August 12 the Militia gathered at Petawawa to watch Baddeck No.1 perform. In his public comments, Colonel Fiset was skeptical, describing airplanes as  “too expensive a luxury”, adding that Canada would wait “to see what England will do … you cannot expect a young country like Canada to strike out and adopt an airship policy.” Fiset may have felt vindicated when, that same evening, McCurdy pranged Baddeck No.1. Soon McCurdy and company were back in Baddeck contemplating their futures. As it turned out, Baldwin would continue doing test and development in Dr. Bell’s laboratory and shops. McCurdy went into exhibition flying, racing and setting records. In January 1911, for instance, he made the first flight from Florida to Havana.

The AEA had put Canada on the aeronautical map. Come the First World War and its reputation grew further, 22,000 Canadians serving in the British air services. Many died in training and combat, and the nation’s first great air heroes became household names. Postwar, Canada adapted airplanes for many peaceful uses, then had to go to war again in 1939.

Over the decades Canada’s aircraft industry has introduced many renowned designs. Beginning in 1924 with the Vedette, it progressed to the Norseman, Beaver, CF-105, Argus and Challenger. Today, Canada is revelling in a “Golden Age” of aerospace with such incomparable products as the Bombardier Q400 and CRJ-1000, the Canadarm at work on the International Space Station, and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines powering aircraft all around the world.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of their predecessors, Canadian aviators continue to stand out. At any moment they might be doing circuits in a “One Fifty” at the flying club, monitoring CRT displays on the flight deck of a long-haul “Triple Seven”, bucking crosswinds in a Twin Otter on final at some Arctic strip, going at each other in Hornets out of Bagotville, delivering a C-17 load of supplies to Kandahar, flying a Cormorant on a dangerous SAR mission, even training in Houston for an ISS mission. Simply put, the historic “Day One” that we return to in explaining all this good stuff is February 23, 1909. So … this year be sure to enjoy some of Canada’s Centennial of Flight events. If you get the chance, see the Silver Dart replica in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, and all the displays at the superb Curtiss Museum in Hammonsport. You won’t be disappointed.

Larry Milberry,
Member, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame